Friday, April 20, 2012

His Grace

I'm sitting in my car outside of a psychiatric hospital waiting a little while before I go in to make a pastoral call on a client. The temperature today is somewhat chilly, almost depressing which may be appropriate for the place that I am at today. I'm sitting under some pine trees with the car windows rolled down listening to the wind whistle through the pine needles. It is still my favorite sound.

The hospital is over 100 years old and it's grandiose building sits on a beautiful wooded lot. I find myself thinking about what it must've been like to walk these grounds 100 years ago when, for the most part, people were put here against their will. The times have changed dramatically since then in fact I'm not writing this with pen and paper nor am I sitting at a keyboard but I am dictating into my phone. Surely my grandfather would be very impressed with this technology.

There is a popular saying that says "the will of God will never lead you where his grace cannot sustain you". I find some comfort and strength in that popular saying but it does omit a very important element. Although God's grace is definitely enough to sustain you, without you willing to stay - it becomes pointless. How frustrating it must be for our father in heaven whose will it is to keep us in a particular place for awhile only to have us fight back.

I think back on the early part of the 20th century when people were no doubt brought to this place kicking and screaming in protest.  It was a place of rest but for some it was the last stop.  Now things are different and thanks to insurance a stay is typically 3 - 5 days, depending on the issues of course.  The new building and addition is beautiful and will no doubt bring around the 200th anniversary of this place of healing.

When the Spirit leads us to a particular place during our lifetime his grace is sufficient to keep us there if and only if our minds and hearts are open to hearing and obeying the will of God. When we walk knowingly and willingly where the Lord wants us to be it is then and only then that we can stop long enough to hear his whisper. It is only when our will bends and meets God's will that his grace becomes apparent to us and able to truly sustain us where ever that place in life maybe.

Listening and submitting to God's will is always the first step in success.

Wherever you may be today on your life journey consider that, no matter how bright or how dark it may be right now, that you are in the will of God and His grace WILL sustain you.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Before the Cross was Empty - It Was Occupied

As a former United Methodist, we were never focused on what is known as the Stations of the Cross.  To be honest, I think we were missing out on something very powerful.  It is known as The Stations of the Cross, Via Dolorosa, Via Crucis, Way of Sorrows and Way of the Cross.  It is a depiction of the final journey of Christ carrying his own cross to his crucifixion.  In 2007 Pope Benedic XVI approved the following as the official Via Dolorosa, although various forms still exist and are used today.
  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested,
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate,
  6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns,
  7. Jesus takes up His cross,
  8. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His cross,
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem,
  10. Jesus is crucified,
  11. Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief,
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other,
  13. Jesus dies on the cross,
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Concordia University Chapel of the Christ Triumphant
One of my earliest experiences with the Way of the Cross did not take place until I was taking classes at Concordia University in Mequon, WI.  I was in the Chapel of the Christ Triumphant one evening practicing the organ and afterwards decided to walk around the chapel to see what was on the walls.  That is when I noticed small stations of the cross.  Sometime in that same year I journeyed to Holy Hill Basillica and walked the stations of the cross down the steep hillside, pondering each one and trying to look in to the stone eyes of Christ, imagining what he must have been thinking.  It was a moving experience and one that I have journeyed many times since then.  It was an in-your-face reminder of every step that took place...and each step was made for me.

There are stations of the cross in the main chapel of Holy Hill as well and since then I have seen dramatically ornate depictions, sometimes in gold and marble, of the Via Dolorosa.  But perhaps one of the most moving and dare I say AUTHENTIC ways I have never seen in person but hope to one day can be found in Daleville, Mississippi.  It has its beginnings in 2012, yes, that's right - this year.  Daleville Anglican, under the leadership of Pastor Vicki Gladding, meets in a yard and it is in this area that a true space of worship was created.  Look first at the cross, a simple structure with a wreath of thorns.  It is not very tall and it leans against the staircase, a watering can to the left (I wonder if that was left on purpose to remind us of the baptism of the Lord and our own Baptism by water).

Perhaps my favorite image is this one, the third station of the cross.  So incredibly humble yet powerful in its simplicity.  You have to approach the tree (the symbolism is not lost here!) to actually see the image and then to spend time in that space to think on and pray on that moment in history. 

I have included a few other images of that moment but there is a point I'm trying to make.  I truly think that faith traditions who leave out this journey, this Via Crucis, may perhaps be missing a very important experience in Christianity.  In many traditions the crucifixion is not displayed, yet in its place is the empty cross as a way of reminding us that He is no longer hanging there.  But every year during this time it is vital to our faith and our understanding of salvation that we remember that first the cross was not empty - first the cross was carried on His shoulders, then the cross contained the body of our Lord - and THEN the cross was emptied.

I pray that you will take time to remember each step of the cross.  Each significant act that our Lord endured in order to fulfill his divine purpose on earth.  Whether you use ornate, gold and marble representations or the authentic simplicity of an image nailed to a tree like that of our Daleville brothers and sisters - it is vital that we do not forget each painful and agonizing step that led to the death and ultimate resurrection of our Lord.  The cross is empty now - we rejoice for that - but before it was empty, it was occupied.